In Georgios Steiris, Sotiris Mitralexis & George Arabatzis (eds.), The Problem of Modern Greek Identity: from the Εcumene to the Nation-State. Cambridge Scholars Press. pp. 173-199 (2016)

Georgios Steiris
National and Kapodistrian University of Athens
Those who work with topics related to Modern Greek identity usually start discussing these issues by quoting the famous Georgios Gemistos Pletho (c.1360-1454): we, over whom you rule and hold sway, are Hellenes by genos (γένος), as is witnessed by our language and ancestral education. Although Woodhouse thought of Pletho as the last of the Hellenes, others prefer to denounce him the last of the Byzantines and the first and foremost Modern Greek. During the 14th and 15th centuries, a number of influential intellectuals in the Eastern Roman Empire preferred the term Hellene (Ἓλλην) to identify themselves, instead of the formal Roman (Ρωμαῖος) and the common Greek (Γραικός). According to the prevalent view of modern scholarship, the shift should not be interpreted only as a statement of proto-national identity, but also as the outcome of growing archaism. As Vryonis pointed out, the historian Critoboulos used to call the Balkan nations with their archaic names: Byzantines became “Hellenes,” Albanians became “Illyrians,” etc. Chalkokondyles followed in the same path. Furthermore, in order to lament the decline of their Empire, byzantine intellectuals tended to compare their sad present to the glory of ancient Greece. Besides archaism, proto-nationalism and Hellenism, I suggest that a careful reading of the sources would lead us to reappraise the ways 15th century intellectuals perceived identity. Whilst I do not accept Vakalopoulos’ views on diachronic Hellenic identity, I support that, in the 15th century, Byzantine scholars attempted to create an identity based on cultural and historical continuity and otherness. Moreover, Laiou’s definition of Greek identity as a resultant of language, history, tradition and interests does not cover the case of 15th century Byzantine philosophers, since the latter strived to enrich and enlarge Greek identity with additional elements. It is worth noting that those philosophers who fled to Italy deliberately chose to describe themselves as Greeks (Greci/Γραικοί) or Hellenes (Ἓλληνες) and not as Romans (Ρωμιοί/Ρωμαῖοι), according to the Byzantine official terminology. During the 15th century a major shift occurred in the Byzantine intelligentsia and its prominent members revisited matters of identity. In this paper, I attempt to scrutinize the ways Byzantine philosophers of the 15th century, who lived in the territories of the Byzantine Empire and in Italy, perceived identity and otherness. In my research, I include not only Greek, but also Latin sources, since their works is written in both languages.
Keywords Byzantium  Pletho  Scholarios  Argyropoulos  George of Trebizond  Modern Greek Identity
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